Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Swords to Blasters

As someone who started playing From Software’s Souls series from its inception, I though Demon’s Souls was a flawed masterpiece and Dark Souls a spiritual sequel that improved on the original in every way.  Unfortunately, the franchise started to show signs of fatigue with the release of Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne (while commendable in many respects) didn’t do enough to distance itself from tired formula.  Enter Dark Souls 3, which (if From Software is to be believed) is the final part of the series.  While many enthusiastic fans are focused on this last chapter, in what has become a trilogy of dark fantasy action RPGs, I find myself preoccupied with the question of where From Software goes from here.

If anecdotal evidence is any indication, the vast majority of Souls veterans want to see a new IP from the mastermind behind it all - Hidetaka Miyazaki.  Sounds great to me, but what kind of game would it be?  I think it’s highly unlikely that the studio would make anything other than a third person action adventure game with some kind of RPG elements.  That’s just what From Software does. It’s the sort of game those guys knows how to make.  So assuming that’s the case, what kind of setting would they create?  The well of European fantasy concepts seems to be running bit dry at the moment, but a hard sci-fi setting might be too big of a tonal shift.  What if they choose to go somewhere in between?

As it turns out there’s a style of 1950s fiction that came out of Googie and the Art Deco movement called, “Raygun Gothic.”  Sometimes it’s also referred to as “the future that never was.”  Now, I know there are folks who will read those last two sentences and say, isn’t Flash Gordon and the Jetsons a bit too bright and colorful to be a From Software production?  It might be, but there is a dark side to Raygun Gothic as well. Take for example the Necromongers from Chronicles of Riddick or the spacesuits seen in Prometheus, both of these things represent a grimmer aspect of the subgenre.  Films such as "Forbidden Planet" or "Tomorrowland," show how places of wonder and beauty can suddenly be transformed into nightmares given substance.  There’s an interesting website called Atomic Rockets that uses the Raygun Gothic aesthetic as a jumping off point for explorations into the realm of hard science.  It works superbly and I feel like From Software could similarly find a good balance between the two extremes of pulp and the cerebral.

At the very least there’s little need for magic since a big part of Raygun Gothic is technology that fills largely the same role whether it be disintegration beams, energy shields, hover belts, or autonomous machines.  The same holds true for fantasy monsters because it’s easy to re-label them as dangerous alien life forms when transplanted to a retro-futuristic setting.  Perhaps instead of souls or blood, the universal currency could be some exotic form of matter…say energy crystals?

Back when I was a kid, I used to read a comic strip called Calvin and Hobbs. One of Calvin’s favorite pastimes was to fantasize he had crash-landed on the surface of a desolate alien world teaming with hostile creatures.  Being a little boy’s daydream, the story rarely advanced much further than that point, but what if there were the ruins of an ancient civilization on that world?  Or a space pirate’s base of operations?  Or the wreckage of another larger crashed spaceship still inhabited by the degenerated descendants of the original crew?  Imagine taking that childhood fantasy and projecting it into a video game similar to Dark Souls? I’m not exactly sure what kind of experiences it would provide, but I don’t think it's a stretch to say it would have the level layout of Metriod and the difficulty of Space Ace.

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